Recently I wrote about my amazing 11 day road trip through Croatia with my boyfriend, which you can read all about here. Croatia is such a beautiful and varied country, but I don’t think I could write about my experience there without spending a bit of time talking about our day in Plitvice Lakes – easily my favourite part of the trip, but also a part of the trip that was wrought with confusion and stress at the beginning of the day! I hope this post not only inspires people to see this beautiful part of the world but also helps anyone who is planning a trip there.
Plitvice Lakes is one of Croatia’s most visited and most famous National Parks – and for a reason. A sprawling forest with it’s own eco-system, and a collection of Disney-film esque waterfalls and crystal blue lakes, it is truly stunning. Despite it’s popularity, we were pleasantly surprised to find that for the most part it is easy to escape the crowds due to the sheer size of the park. Plitvice Lakes is comprised of both upper and lower lakes. The lower lakes are by far the most popular for tourists to visit, and it seems as though some tourists go straight to the lower lakes, take some pictures, then leave. However if you are able to, it is definitely worth going on a longer walk to incorporate both the upper and lower lakes, and take in more of the wonder that is Plitvice Lakes.
Plitvice Lakes is further inland than a lot of Croatia’s top tourist attractions – it is about 2 hours away from Krka National Park (another popular national park) near Sibenik, and 3 hours away from Split. It is also about 2 and a Half hours away from Croatia’s capital, Zagreb. For this reason – despite it’s popularity – many people visiting Croatia may skip Plitvice Lakes in favour of staying near the beach, or alternatively choose to visit Plitvice as part of an organised excursion. However, we found that not only was it our favourite part of our trip and well worth visiting, but it was also best enjoyed alone, as this meant you could actually escape the other visitors and explore in your own time.
Our day to Plitvice started at about 9am, where we set off from our beachside apartment in Zaboric (our base for exploring Sibenik and Krka National Park) and began the two hour drive to Plitvice Lakes. However before we entered the park our day began with a lot of problems. First of all, we forgot to get cash out in Zaboric. There were no easily accessible cash points the entire route to Plitvice, however we were confident we could get cash out there. When we arrived however, the only cash point around was attached to one of the large hotels in the national park, just opposite the entrance. As this was the only cash point, we ended up being charged an eye watering £30 each to withdraw money.
We also discovered we had to pay for parking. As parking had been free at Krka the day before, this took us by surprise. However, parking was not that expensive – we paid just 35 Kuna for 4 hours.
Before we entered the park, we found the experience really overwhelming. We arrived just after 11am, but after finding a place to park the car, crossing the road to get cash out, queueing for tickets, and queueing to get some food and sit down to eat it, we didn’t actually enter the park until nearly 12. The entrance and ticket/food area to the park was crowded with people and the car park was filled with cars, so we were a bit worried about the crowds. If I were to do it again, I would consider staying nearby the night before, and entering the park much earlier to avoid all the people.
When we entered the park, we discovered there were many different walking routes we could take. Again, I was feeling a bit unprepared as I really didn’t know which would be the best option. Some of the routes were, according the information provided, 8 hours long. Others were only 2-3 hours, but many of these involved boats and buses, and only took you to the main touristy areas. As people who enjoy hiking and keeping fit, we wanted a route that was challenging and stimulating, but at the same time were wary of being in the park for 8 hours as we had already arrived fairly late.
Each of the routes was labelled with a number. In the end we decided to take most of route ‘K’, which was the longer route and involved both some walking and some hiking, and incorporated both the upper and lower lakes. We skipped part of the walk to reduce the time by taking a boat from the bottom of the lower lakes to the bottom of the upper lakes before hiking upwards.
As we set off, we walked along the body of water which the boats used to ferry passengers to and from the upper and lower lakes. This part of the walk was peaceful and quiet, with most people opting to use the boats. It took about 40 minutes to reach the lower lakes, and on the way we also passed a bat cave, which was popular with visitors.
Obviously, when we reached the lower lakes, it was a lot more popular and therefore crowded. However, despite the crowds it was absolutely stunning, and definitely worth seeing. The photos speak for themselves.
We walked along the waterfalls and across the lakes via the manmade boardwalk. This part of the trip would definitely have been more enjoyable had we not been there during peak times (both in terms of the time of day and the season), however, it was still incredibly beautiful and rewarding to see.
After we had meandered through the lower lakes, we took the boat to the bottom of the upper lakes and began walking on the ‘K’ trail again. The ‘K’ trail involved a steeper hike up and was not as clearly marked as other routes, which for us was perfect. It allowed us to spend most of the remainder of the trip practically alone and was the quietest part of the walk. It also meant we could do a bit more hiking and see more of the natural beauty of Plitvice Lakes, nearly untouched by human intervention. Whilst the ‘K’ trail was not a particularly challenging hike, it still gave us a bit of a burn. None of the routes in Plitvice Lakes are super challenging for a fit and healthy person, however visiting the park does require an enjoyment and an ability to spend quite a bit of time walking none-the-less.
As we hiked up, we got more and more incredible views of the upper lakes from above. It was so peaceful, awe-inspiring, and serene. The photos just don’t do it justice and it really is one of those places that is so much more breathtaking in real life.
Overall, the ‘K’ route took us just 4 hours to complete. Yes, we got a boat in the middle. However, as the boats are quite slow I feel like this only cut out maybe half an hour of our time. The maps say that the ‘K’ route takes 6-8 hours to complete, however I feel this is an overestimation and perhaps the timings are more applicable to people who prefer to take their time and amble along, taking in all the scenery and taking lots of photos, or to people who have lower fitness levels or are in a bigger group, perhaps with small children.
That evening, we stayed in the nearby town of Korenica. We stayed in a lovely b’n’b called Guesthouse Orekovic. It was really clean, quiet, and scenic in the Croatian countryside, and we were provided with a full buffet breakfast in the morning. The only issue with staying near Plitvice Lakes is that food options are very limited. Even though our accommodation and breakfast was lovely, there are limited restaurants around the Plitvice Lakes area and all of them are very ‘meat’ focused, with lots of Mixed Grills. If we were to do Plitvice Lakes again, we would probably find an air b’n’b or stay in a hostel with a kitchen and buy our own groceries.
Plitvice Lakes was my absolute favourite part of our trip. It was the stunning natural beauty I had expected and was so keen to see from Croatia. However, our day could have definitely gone smoother. Here are my tips for visiting Plitvice Lakes:
- If you can., get to Plitvice Lakes earlier in the day to avoid heaps of crowd
- If you are a fussy eater or have dietary requirements, see if you can stay in accommodation with a kitchen. If you would rather stay in a hotel or guesthouse, just be aware that your options will be more limited! Having said this, eating out is really cheap.
- Make sure you have plenty of cash before you get there. Don’t get stung by the cash machine in the National Park!
- It feels like Plitvice Lakes charge for everything – however, it is still worth getting a map. We would have really struggled to walk around the park and choose a route without one.
- Before you set off it may be worth having a sit down with your map and deciding which route you would like to take. Many of the routes link up so you can always change your mind as you walk around.
- Take a camera or at least a phone with a decent built-in camera, you’ll be grateful for it!
- If it’s possible for you, see if you can visit Plitvice Lakes in off-peak or shoulder seasons. There will be fewer visitors, and the waterfalls may be fuller and much more beautiful.
- If you can, bring or pack a lunch with you for the day. Food options at Plitvice Lakes are unsurprisingly overpriced and extremely limited.